D. James Smith’s novel, The Boys of San Joaquin, may be considered a mystery–after all, it won the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery in 2006–and it may be technically a children’s book, but neither classification should in any way limit its audience. In fact, adults may better appreciate this gem for its nostalgic look back at a golden childhood summer, filled with adventure, possibilities, and big questions about right and wrong, loyalty, and family.
This is one of those books that feels like a complete whole, reminiscent of great American novels such as To Kill a Mockingbird. Smith, whose work appears frequently in literary magazines, writes with beauty, clarity, and an honest voice. Paulo, the book’s narrator, is looking back on an episode from his childhood in a small town in California in 1951. A denizen from a large Italian family, Paulo explains:
“My name is Paolo ’cause my mother got to name me. My folks took turns: Ernie, Hector, Betsy, Margarita, Shawna, me — Paolo, Alice-Ann and Aurora, who were twins, George, and Maria-Teresina-the-Little-Rose, as she was the last and my mom wanted to be sure to get all her Italian licks in at the end. Try going around looking like you climbed down from the Appalachians with a name like Paolo. It’ll give you an education. My dad said it’d give me patience with folks that are dumb, and being as there are lots of those, I have learned a mighty patience, though I quit all my formal schooling at a young age. You can’t do that now, but back then it was nothing. “
The fact that Paulo’s sister’s name appears as “Maria-Teresina-the-Little-Rose” every time it is used will give you a sense of the charm of the book. When Paulo’s dog, Rufus, arrives home with a wad of cash in his mouth, Paulo, his six-year-old brother Georgie, and their deaf cousin Billy, set out in search of the source of money, figuring there must be more. Their search leads them to discover that money from the church’s collection is missing. In their attempt to solve the mystery, the boys discover a whole lot more. The journey is well worth your time.
The Boys of San Joaquin is followed by two equally charming sequels:[openbook booknumber=”ISBN:1416905421 ” templatenumber=”5″] [openbook booknumber=”ISBN:1416938095 ” templatenumber=”5″]